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Born in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, in 1943, Francisco Jiménez grew up in a family of migrant workers in California. Jiménez spent much of his childhood moving around California with no permanent home or regular schooling, yet despite incredible odds he went on to have a distinguished academic career. A graduate of Santa Clara University, he also attended Harvard University and received both a Master's Degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He went on to become chairman of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Santa Clara University, as well as director of the Division of Arts and Humanities there, and has been director of the Mexico Summer Study Program at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.
Long a writer of academic works for adults, Jiménez's entry into writing for young people came through an award-winning short story, "The Circuit," based on his childhood. In 1997, Jiménez combined the story with others into the autobiographical volume The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, which won numerous awards, including the Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature. He followed this achievement with the picture book La Mariposa, another autobiographical work that looks at the difficulties faced by a non-English-speaking child in an English-speaking classroom. His exploration of the melding or memoir and fiction continued with The Christmas Gift/El regalo de Navidad, a bilingual illustrated book about the sources of humanity and strength that exist even in the face of poverty. His newest book is Breaking Through, his award-winning sequel to The Circuit.